LARGO — If voters are looking for differences between incumbent City Commissioner Harriet Crozier and her two challengers in the Nov. 2 election, there's at least one hot button issue they can focus on: mass transit.
Crozier has championed the issue in her 17 years on the City Commission and favors a 1-cent sales tax increase to support transportation projects.
But challengers Robert Avery and Robert Hunsicker denounced the prospect of putting more money into bus or rail mass transit Wednesday night during the Get Out and Vote Forum at City Hall hosted by the city of Largo and the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce.
Avery, Hunsicker and Crozier are vying for Seat 5 on the commission. Also at the forum were candidates for Seat 6: incumbent Louis Woody Brown and challengers Doug Lardner and John Atanasio.
In the discussion on transportation, Avery said adding more bus transit would be a waste.
"I would oppose it all the way," Avery said of Pinellas County's bus system. "They have totally failed the citizens they were meant to serve. It sounds like another government money pit."
Hunsicker said he feels that if rail transit came to Largo, it would not be used.
"This is the train for nobody," he said. "Largo is not a vertical city and will never be one."
He said one of the reasons why rail would not work in the county is the weather — that people wouldn't want to wait for a train in 95-degree heat.
Crozier is a member of a Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority board, which is the agency pushing to bring better mass transit to the area. She said the others couldn't be more wrong — that in order to grow and be a more efficient city, investments must be made in mass transit.
"I definitely support the 1 cent that goes toward mass transit," Crozier said. ". . . It's going to help our economy. It's going to give us a big boost."
When asked if they support Amendment 4, a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit local land use changes in the state without voter approval, all candidates came out strongly against the measure.
In the race for Seat 6, where Brown is running for his first re-election, each candidate weighed in on their No. 1 issue if elected, and how they would reduce the budget.
Lardner said his first objective would be to re-open the city's outreach program that provides after-school activities for youth in Largo. He said he did not have an idea where funds would come from, but would find a way.
"It was low-income families that were impacted the most," he said.
Budget-wise, Lardner said he would open a program to receive input from residents on ways to reduce costs.
Atanasio did not offer any specific plan for reducing the budget, but said his first priority would be to better understand each department's spending habits.
Brown said he would like to continue his efforts in making streets in the city safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, citing four recent pedestrian deaths on Missouri Avenue.
Some options for this include better road design and buffers between vehicles and pedestrians and educating the public through the Police Department.
Budget-wise, Brown said cuts must be made, and city staff, barring police and firefighters, need to be cut.
Dominick Tao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 580-2951.